Feminist Philosophy And Science Fiction: Utopias And Dystopias
by Judith A. Little (editor)
Edited by Judith A. Little
Review by Nancy Jane Moore
Prometheus Books Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781591024149
Date: 30 October 2007 List Price $25.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
As an anthology of science fiction influenced by feminism of the 1960s and 1970s, Judith A. Little's Feminist Philosophy and Science Fiction: Utopias and Dystopias is fine. It includes "No Woman Born," a C.L. Moore story from 1944, and Judith Merrill's 1961 "Survival Ship," both of which provide some background, along with some core feminist SF from the 1970s and 1980s. Some of editor Judith Little's choices are obvious – three selections from Joanna Russ's The Female Man along with her Nebula-winning story "When It Changed". Some are a bit more inspired, such as Karen Joy Fowler's "The Elizabeth Complex". I was particularly glad to see work by Molly Gloss and Carol Emshwiller, and was intrigued by the selections from Leona Gom's The Y Chromosome, which I have not read. The book even includes two stories by male authors – John Varley and Manuel van Loggem – though neither of these add much to the overall theme.
But given the vast scope implied by the title, the book falls short. Despite its 2007 publication date, the most recent story in the book is Fowler's, published in 1996. If no one was currently writing or publishing utopian or dystopian feminist SF, this might be understandable, but that is far from the case – L. Timmel Duchamp's five-book Marq'ssan Cycle is just one example of recent work that fits squarely in Little's theme.
Since the book is intended as an overview of utopian and dystopian concepts in feminist SF, focusing on a small slice of the literature renders it incomplete. In addition to carrying the work into the 21st Century, Little could have provided us with stories from the 19th and early 20th Centuries – many of which, unlike most of the fiction in this anthology, are not easily found elsewhere.
But while the story selection plows little new ground, the real flaw with this book lies with the materials written by Little herself to support her theories and make it suitable for college classroom use. Little's introduction to the book – a cursory summary of philosophy and utopian thinking – is dull, and her introductions to her two sections, "Human Nature and Reality" and "Utopias and Dystopias," provide essentially a summary of the included stories. These essays add very little to the book – a sharp student will gain a better grasp on theory from reading the fiction than from reading the introductions.
And the suggested discussion questions after each essay and story are simplistic. The first question for Russ's "When It Changed" is: "What do the men's patronizing remarks indicate about their view of females? Do any of these male attitudes exist today?" One would hope that college students interested in feminist SF would be open to more complex questions.
A professor seeking material for a class on feminist SF would be better advised to use Justine Larbalestier's anthology Daughters of Earth, which provides scholarly essays certain to provoke classroom responses along with an interesting mix of stories. Feminist science fiction has grown in complexity since the angry days of the 1970s, and scholarship in the field is impressively deep. Today an academic anthology in the field has to provide more than a few good stories. Sadly, Feminist Philosophy and Science Fiction doesn't pass that test.
Fiction included in the book:
"Survival Ship" by Judith Merrill
"Abominable" by Carol Emshwiller
Two selections from The Y Chromosome by Leona Gom
"The Elizabeth Complex" by Karen Joy Fowler
"Bloodchild" by Octavia Butler
"Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand" by Vonda N. McIntyre
"His Vegetable Wife" by Pat Murphy
"Speech Sounds" by Octavia E. Butler
"For the Sake of Grace" by Suzette Haden Elgin
"Pairpuppets" by Manuel van Loggem
"Your Faces, O My Sisters! Your Faces Filled of Light" by Racoona Sheldon
"Wives" by Lisa Tuttle
"Fears" by Pamela Sargent
Three selections from The Female Man by Joanna Russ
"Daya Tells a Tale" from The Furies by Suzy McKee Charnas
"Oath of the Free Amazons" from The Shattered Chain by Marion Zimmer Bradley
"When It Changed" by Joanna Russ
"X: A Fabulous Child's Story" by Lois Gould
"Interlocking Pieces" by Molly Gloss
"Options" by John Varley